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|Upside down . . . and not too happy about it!!!|
I don't know how but somewhere along the line I'd missed out
on it. Almost everyone I've ever spoken to has been on a roller
coaster ride of some sort and has happily survived to tell the
tale of their bravado, but somehow I'd managed to reach the ripe
old age of almost forty without ever having been on one at all.
Not even just a little one. It wasn't anything to do with being
too frightened to give it a go. I simply haven't really been
anywhere where the possibility arose. I guess it's because I
don't like crowds of people. The sort of places you get roller
coaster rides are guaranteed to be pretty much full of crowds so
I have avoided them.
For some time for unknown reasons I seem to have been suffering many of the symptoms of fear based panic attacks and as a result have been trying to think up ways of setting myself to rights. I don't know what I'm afraid of but figure one fear is much like another. Following the principle of aversion therapy it seemed like a good idea to go on a scary ride or two and scare the silliness out of me. Weekly adverts in the local free paper had advertised an all in trip by Turners Coachways (Bristol) Ltd to Alton Towers for the very reasonable sum of £24 per person and after having seen TV programs on some of the rides I figured what better way? I idly mentioned this idea in passing at the pub one night and all of a sudden I'm on the phone and booking up three tickets for myself, Martin and Chris for the nineteenth of July.
I was woken from a restless sleep by the first of my two alarms at about five thirty and set about quickly coming to with the usual coffee and cigarettes whilst checking out the teletext weather forecast. It was going to be another fine hot rainless day. Perfect.
I got myself ready and dressed and collected all the bits and pieces I thought I would need and crammed them into all the pockets of my combat trousers. I really wanted to take a camera just in case I could get a shot or two so also decided to take my small belt bag. I was determined to take as little as possible. No coat, no backpack, just what I was stood in and a bottle of water, which at a push would fit in a trouser leg pocket. At six thirty I left the house idly wondering if it would be the last time I saw it. It seemed to matter little.
The long walk down to the Eastgate Centre in Eastville from where the bus was to leave was actually rather pleasant in itself. There wasn't too much traffic around and the sky was absolutely clear blue with the early sun having yet to make the air temperature unpleasantly high and dry. It was good to be walking light in comfy shoes and occasionally checking my watch I seemed to make good progress in almost no time at all. Checking my dual display watch again more closely I realised that the hands of the analogue display no longer matched the time of the digital display. It was ten minutes later than I had thought! Taking off my watch I fumbled with the knobs and buttons to correct the error as I speeded up my pace. As always with such things I had set out with plenty of time to spare giving myself an hour to complete what I thought was about a forty-five minute walk, but I wasn't too sure because I'd never walked to the Eastgate centre before. It really wouldn't have done to arrive late because it wasn't only me who would have had to suffer the consequences. I had the booking confirmation and all the paperwork for all three of us.
Taking a short cut across a corner of Eastville Park and working up a sweat, I worked my way across the dew covered grass from the welcome cool shade of one tree to the next. Rejoining the now busy road full of fuming rush hour traffic I crossed under the massive M32 roundabout junction via the subway and was presented with a line of bus stops with small groups of people waiting. It seemed pretty obvious this was the right place so I sat on a polished rail that made a convenient much used seat and recovered from my exertions with a sip from my now warm water bottle and a cigarette or two. It had only taken me about forty minutes. Inevitably doubt began to creep in, so just to confirm I really was in the right place I wandered over to a crowd of people and asked if this was the right place for the Turners Coach pick up. I don't know why but I felt a little self-conscious about actually revealing where I was heading for so I didn't actually say 'to Alton Towers to go on scary rides'! The group I had asked were heading somewhere else but they did rattle off the names of other coach operators who picked up from there so it seemed pretty reasonable to assume I was safe to return to wait on my rail and top up my nicotine level sufficient for a three hour no smoking journey.
As time went by more people joined the waiting crowds and a couple of coaches appeared and began loading up. I began to examine the passing traffic wondering where Martin and Chris were and became a little anxious when from around the corner a Turners coach appeared and pulled up in front of the surging crowd. This was it. I stood up and began to walk over to join the queue that had formed at the side of the coach convinced that I would be going alone. Just then as I joined the throng with a little relief I saw Martins car driving round the roundabout and pulling into the shopping centre car park. I manoeuvred through the crowd and peered through a break in the hedge and watched as Martin parked up and he and Chris got out. I managed to catch their eye as they looked around for the bus stop and they made their way over to join me, now at the very back of the queue.
After a long, long wait, slowly inching forward and topping up nicotine levels to the very last moment, it was at last our turn to be booked in by the busy driver. By then the bus looked pretty full and we were convinced that we would end up having to fill in any remaining empty seats wherever they may be, all over the coach. I told him my name and he looked through his list of bookings. Peering over his shoulder at the list it seemed very inconvenient for him to have it all efficiently printed out by computer but in initials order rather than surname order. Very amateur. I helped him out by pointing to my name and after a quick tick I was given an Alton Towers leaflet and a small envelope that I thrust out of the way into the combat trouser pocket I had allocated for the ticket paperwork. He then referred to a small hand drawn seating plan and to our relief confirmed that the seats were allocated, all together, a single window seat behind the pair, adjacent to the stairs on the top deck. He gave us directions and we happily climbed the stairs to find all three seats already occupied! Having seen the seating plan and having been explicitly directed to those seats I wasn't going to be messed around and putting on my best intimidating voice from behind my impenetrable dark glasses and pointing to the young girls that were sat in them simply said 'You're in our seats!', in a tone which implied they were not going to be for long. They immediately vacated them but ended up stood in the aisle looking rather confused and unhappy. I stood to one side and let Martin and Chris sit down as I looked at the other occupied seat we had been allocated just behind. A slim young man looking at me with a shocked expression was sat in my seat next to the window with his rucksack on the seat next to him. The aisle was full of people and there seemed little point in aggravating the situation by dragging him out just so I could sit by the window so I decided to just sit down on the vacant seat. It still took an impatient "Can you move your bag PLEASE!" before I could.
The aisle remained full of people and it soon became clear that despite the seating plan there weren't enough seats. Something wasn't right and eventually the coach driver appeared from downstairs trying to sort out the problem. The young girls pointed to where they should have been sat and the driver got the people sat there to admit that they didn't actually have ticket confirmations, although the man was adamant that a scribbled piece of screwed up paper was their official booking receipt which entitled them to sit there. The driver very politely and patiently explained that the seats were all allocated and they could not simply walk past him and sit where they chose, and asked them to go back downstairs so that he could refer to the booking paperwork. As they made their way along the aisle he asked the man for his name and everyone in earshot had a quiet chuckle as Mr Smart failed to live up to expectations.
Twenty minutes later than advertised we finally pulled away from the bus stop and were soon heading off down the motorway. On the intercom the driver briefly welcomed us on board and assured us that the air conditioning was on full. Admittedly it was going to get hotter and it was I'm sure very thoughtful of him, but I began to wish I'd brought a coat. It was really rather chilly.
We all settled in for the long drive up and I gazed out of the window at the many passing golden fields of recently mown and bundled hay which bore testament to the recent good weather. It wasn't long before I became aware of and mildly irritated by the behaviour of the young man sat in 'my' seat past whom I had to look. His friends were sat in the seats behind us and he often engaged in conversation with them. That of course was fine but when he wasn't talking to them he seemed to have to keep up a constant observation of them. He would look out of the window for a moment then he would look round at them. He'd look at me then he'd look round at them. He'd look at other passengers then he'd look round at them, and so it went on, non-stop for hours. If I changed my gaze out of the window or made the slightest movement he would look at me and then he'd look round at them, or look at what I was looking at, then look at me, then look round at them. I couldn't help but have a bit of a play with this 'twitcher' and started showing great interest in lots of nothing as we passed. Sadly he was obviously more used to twitching than I was and I soon had to admit defeat with a sore neck. I closed my eyes for a while and meditated. It wasn't easy mindfully accepting the seemingly constant ringing, bleeping and shouting of all the mobile phone users and I soon reopened my eyes to watch the countryside rolling by the opposite window.
The second time the large girl across the aisle got up to go to the WC it seemed pretty obvious she had a problem. We hadn't been on the road long and she'd had to go twice already whilst no one else had been at all. The third time she went I wondered if it would have been easier for her to have simply stayed downstairs and vacated the WC if anyone else needed it! Poor girl.
Feeling bored I looked at the leaflet I'd been given by the driver and rediscovered the seemingly insignificant brown envelope I'd forgotten about in my pocket. It had our Alton towers entry tickets in. I carefully placed it back in my pocket and did up the button. Time and the coach rolled slowly on and eventually I overheard someone point out the enormous JCB factory, with it's expensive waiting private helicopter, and announce that we didn't have too much further to go. It was definitely JCB country. A few miles up the road, ominously set in a field just off the road, was a huge and bizarre, rusting sculpture composed entirely of JCB digger parts. I don't know what it was meant to be, perhaps a tree, but it seemed brooding and threatening to me with its clawing buckets thrust into the air.
At last, after a torturously slow drive in the traffic jam leading up to the park, we pulled through the gates and headed down the perimeter access road past the coach parks. Coaches were everywhere. Line upon line of them five or six abreast in coach park after coach park. Eventually we pulled into the entrance of the very last one and slowly pulled up in a narrow space amongst the rest. The driver announced that we would be leaving promptly at 5:30 whether or not passengers were missing, and so we should all be back on board by 5:15, which seemed quite reasonable. The side door opened and we were off. It was like a race. I rather fancied a cigarette after all that time without, but the pace we were going, trying to keep up with the rest of the excited herd, made it impossible for me to try to roll one on the run. Three or four, or was it more, coach parks later, we followed the river of people and were soon queuing at the bustling admission kiosk building. There was some confusion here as people waiting and assembling outside in large groups were mistaken by some for the end of the queue. Picking our way with difficulty through the gaps and after having made sure that Martin and Chris each had one of the tickets from the small brown envelope, we were soon lining up in front of one of the turnstiles. People behind were impatiently pushing and shoving, and children especially were pushing in from all sides. Such was the push from behind at the turnstile next to me that the mechanism could not revolve around to allow the next person through and the poor ticket attendant was trying, with little success, to get everyone to move back. All of a sudden I was through the turnstile and amidst the mass of ear splitting screaming shouting kids that seemed to be thronging just inside. Looking behind I realised that a large proportion of a small school had somehow pushed their way in front of Chris and Martin in the queue and I had to stand and wait, just long enough to role a cigarette, before they could join me.
We moved away from the noise of the kiosks and wandered down the large causeway of 'Towers Street' gathering our thoughts and getting used to the idea of being part of the mayhem that was all around. It was decided that we needed a map and rides information leaflet, and found they were supplied from a nearby guest services building. We studied the 3D map briefly and agreed that we should head straight for the 'Oblivion' ride in the 'X-Sector'. It was quiet obvious there were a lot of people there and we imagined that there was going to be quite a considerable amount of queuing to get on the famous rides, so the sooner we got them done the better. The crowds didn't overly concern us at this point because the information leaflet gave details about their 'Virtual Queuing' system. Only operating on busy days, it was possible to get a ticket for the main rides with an allocated ride time, which meant you could wander round and explore everything and then turn up for the ride at the specified time. This was definitely a busy day.
With an increasing sense of nervous anticipation we set off with the flow of people heading down the path around the large lake that sparkled in the bright sunshine. As a large brightly coloured squirrel pushing an acorn full of children on the 'Squirrel Nutty Ride' slowly lumbered along on rails just overhead to our right, Martin half joked that he would be more than happy to have a go on something like that. We carried on up the path with the impressive outline of the Alton Towers house in front of us. The crowds of people got worse as we rounded a corner by a tuck shop, and there it was. A huge metal structure that supported rails that climbed up from the building on the top of a nearby small hill, cresting way above us and then dropping straight down into a large fenced off hole in the ground. Despite the heat of the sun the large black hole in the ground was swathed in mist. We walked down the steps to the viewing area and tried to peer through the fence, past the cold wet spray of mist, into the hole. There was nothing much to see without getting a cold shower, but then the clattering of the tracks and the screams above us drew our attention to the carriage load of people teetering on the brink above. It just stopped there at a seemingly impossible angle, tilted so the screaming occupants were facing the ground 200feet or so below for what seemed like a very long time. Then all of a sudden it was let go and plunged vertically down into the hole at breakneck speed, punching the air out of the way all around as it went. With ear piercing screams and a roar it disappeared with the mist into the black of the hole to reappear seconds later some distance away coming out of the ground to rise back up and follow the tortuously banked rail all the way back to the top of the hill, slowing to a crawl as it neared its departure point.
Jeeze it looked scary! Everyone getting off seemed to have a smile on their face and had obviously survived the experience but I don't think I was smiling too much at the prospect. Nevertheless it was this particular ride that I was determined to try. This was why I was there. I had seen it so many times on TV. I just had to do it.
The queue was enormous. We looked around and we looked around some more and no matter where we looked it was the same queue. Signs somewhere near the entrance to the ride indicated that the queue wait was in the region of forty-five minutes! Ridiculous. We sought out the virtual queue system only to see to our dismay that the gates that led to the ticket machines were barricaded off. The 'virtual' queuing system lived up to its name. In reality it didn't exist! There was nothing for it. If we were going to do it we were going to have to stand in the heaving four abreast queue. We debated. 'Shall we? Are you game? Are you gonna give it a go?' I knew Chris would. He seems to thrive on scary stuff. If the ride meant being pushed out of an aeroplane with a sewing machine, some nylon and instructions on how to make a parachute he'd probably give it a go. Martin wasn't so happy and I had to admire him for knowing his limit and sticking to it and shunning any false bravado. He was going to sit this one out. He'd been on various scary rides over the years and he knew from experience this one was not for him. I however didn't have the same experience, or perhaps common sense, so it was agreed Martin would wait while Chris and I went for it. We joined the end of the queue.
It was a long wait. It was a long, horrible, hot, bothered, agonising wait in the sun. From the moment we stood in the queue people were trying to push in and elbow past us. We both tried to be as fat as we could and stop people from getting in front of us but such was the chaos we weren't always successful, especially since there was an intermittent rail running down the middle of the queue ramp. If you got one side of the rail it seemed as though immediately, the other side would move quicker. The classic 'Post Office queue' scenario. Partly because of this, and powerless to do anything about it, we were forced to watch as a group of tall young Afro 'gangster' types, arrogantly and deliberately ignored the fact that there was a queue at all and pushed their way past everyone and disappeared out of sight heading straight for the front. Chris and I didn't say a word but we definitely got simultaneously wider and more deliberate in our apparently nonchalantly holding onto the fence and the rail on either side of us.
The queue wound in a spiral around the hill on which the ride was built, and seemed to have been cunningly designed in such a way that no matter how long you queued and how far you thought you had inched your way forward, there was always another tier of the queue visible up above and no end in sight. I tried to stay cool but it seemed to go on forever and everyone around me was starting to get on my nerves. Constantly under pressure from those behind I would occasionally lean back against them to get them off me. A young couple in front were SO in love it was sickening. It was so dry and hot under the baking sun I really couldn't figure out how they could keep up that much kissing for so long and I almost blurted out that they should get a room!
The queue wound endlessly on. At one point after passing through a small building it doubled back on itself with a fence between the two lines. Unfortunately the top of the fence was missing along from the building, and as we slowly moved towards it some school kids were climbing over and jumping a huge section of the queue. As we got closer they were laughing from up ahead and calling out to their friends below to do the same thing and join them. A boy was half way over the fence when the young man in front stopped kissing his girlfriend for just long enough to put out a hand and complain. This was all the lead I needed and unusually I got all forceful and aggressive and joined in and succeeded in pushing the boy back making sure none of his friends would try getting through that way. The young man in front was rewarded for his assertiveness with lots of kissing by his girlfriend. I didn't kiss Chris!
We passed some time watching the carriages coming and going and trying to work out how many there were and how it was they were able to put up with the punishment that they received and how they slowed down and why so many seats were empty and, and . . . we queued.
It was getting difficult to stand still. My legs were shaking. I don't think it was nerves. So unpleasant was the queuing and such a feat of endurance was it that I didn't feel nervous at all. It was just that I had been stood still for SO long that my legs and neck and back and feet were aching! I'd reached the point where I was actually eager to get on the ride just to be able to sit down for a while. At last we turned a corner and were able to see where the queue split in two and entered the building. Unfortunately we had yet to get past a dog leg in the queue's route which had the effect of making the inside lane which we were in stand still while the outside lane moved on apace. Infuriating!
Inch by inch we moved on until at last we entered the outer entrance building where the queue finally seemed to come under control and get to be more defendable and almost single file. Speakers blared out barely discernable imaginary Oblivion trip departure information which seemed really rather pointless. Crossing a metal girder bridge it appeared that many people that had gone before had suffered the strange urge to throw their money into the chasm below. Coins of all denominations littered the place. Why? Oh dear! For the umpteenth time I nervously checked all my bulging combat trouser pockets were definitely buttoned, with my loose change corked by a handkerchief in my hip pocket, my bottle of water in one leg pocket and my sunglasses safe in the other. My belt bag was all zipped up and secure at my stomach with its strap threaded through my trouser belt loops. I had absolutely no idea what to expect but imagined that any ride that could dislodge that lot would have been banned long ago. We entered the departure area. It wasn't unlike a railway station. A platform both sides of the rail running down the middle, with the carriages pulling up in between. It really was quite a slick operation. A set number of people were funnelled between railings and lined up waiting for a carriage to pull level. Previous occupants exited to the platform on their right as the next lot got in on the left. The carriages were arranged as two rows of seats, eight abreast. We didn't seem to have much choice as to where we ended up and unfortunately we were allocated the rear row. I quickly followed Chris's lead and clambered over into the next empty seat. It was quite a tight fit and as I sank into the seat my bulging combat trousers underwent all sorts of stress. Somehow the leg pockets, particularly the one with the water bottle in, ended up being forced to the tops of my legs. Individual large U shaped padded bars had to be pulled down over our heads and onto our shoulders and locked in place with a small seat belt, presumably to stop us falling out. I had a twinge of panic at this point since, with the belt bag on my stomach and all my bulging trouser pockets in strange places, I couldn't get the U bar to lock down tight on its ratchet! Breathing in and crunching it forcefully down onto my body I still couldn't get it tight so I gave up and figured I would just have to use the chrome handles to push myself into the back of the seat, or maybe just rattle around a bit. Whatever!
Strangely, although apprehensive, I can honestly say I was not particularly frightened. I don't know why. I think I've been more nervous stood in queues.
The carriage began to crawl slowly forward toward the incline. When it reached the incline the motorised chain mechanism in the middle of the tracks engaged and with a clatter we began to climb the slope. As we gained altitude looking over my left shoulder I had a tremendous view of the busy crowded park stretching out beneath. We crested the rise and moved around the track turning to face the drop where the track disappeared down out of view. Slowly forward, high up in the sky the carriage moved to the edge of the track, and over, so that we were tilted facing the ground and . . . it stopped there! I don't remember too much about the wait other than recognising that the ground was a very, very long way off and the hole we were aiming for seemed a very small target. My hands tightened on the handles. This wasn't so bad . . . aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh yes it was. I knew we were going to drop into freefall but I couldn't possibly have imagined how it would feel. My stomach got left way behind at the top somewhere and my body seemed to turn to stone with every muscle straining. My eyes were wide, my teeth were clenched and if there hadn't been so much noise I'm sure I'd have heard me making an embarrassing groaning noise. The freefall didn't last long but it sure seemed like a long time before eventually we were doused in the wet mist and roaring through the cold dark of the hole, on the up curve. Somewhere in the dark my stomach realised I'd gone and decided to catch me up. Back out into the sunlight, a worrying bank over to the left, deceleration and it was all over and we were slowly heading into the building to disembark.
Gosh! I can't say I 'enjoyed' it. How people can laugh and scream and hold their arms up and do all that stuff I don't know. All the young kids on the ride especially, seemed to show no fear at all and thought it was all great fun. I guess life teaches you how to fear. Ignorance is bliss? I was very glad it was over. I'd been on a scary ride. It wasn't nice. I didn't think I'd do it again. It had given me an instant headache. I needed to sit down for a bit. Martin was eager to sort out where we should go next and had the map out. It was all right for him. He'd had a nice sit down in the sun, he'd smoked lots of relaxing cigarettes and had even taken the opportunity to have a Pizza snack at the nearby Pizza Hut! I needed to sit down for a bit!
After a quick cigarette and a couple of slurps of my warm bottled water we set of past the gothic looking semi derelict house in search of 'Ug Land'. Martin wanted to have a go on the 'Corkscrew' roller coaster. Many years ago this had apparently been the park's premier ride attraction and both Chris and Martin had been on it before and wanted another go. Now I knew all about scary rides, Martin's earlier suggestion of having a go on the 'Squirrel Nutty Ride' seemed far more appealing!
The queue for the Corkscrew wasn't 'that' bad. At least it hadn't necessitated the opening of the overflow queue area. We got in line. Happily here there was much less chance of having a bad queue experience. The path that we had to follow was staked out with small wooden fence posts a bit like a stockade and was much more easily defended from queue jumper attack. We sauntered along quite happily and relatively quickly, a trainload at a time, at least able to see the end of the queue and somewhat entertained by an adjacent water sculpture type thing. Basically lots of holes in the ground that would intermittently squirt a jet of water up into the air. It was a very hot day and there was no shortage of kids willing to stand in the jets, get soaking wet, and try and poke their fingers in the holes to squirt their friends and the nearby queue of complaining guys waiting for the Corkscrew! Actually it wasn't only young kids. One middle aged woman seemed more than happy for her man friend to carefully, slowly position her over one of the holes so that the next jet of water that came out went straight up between her legs. Lucky man!
Mindful of the difficulty my water container had given me on the previous ride I decided that I would be far better off getting rid of the cumbersome bottle, so after having gladly wetted my dry throat with the remaining drops I popped my favourite plastic bottle in one of the bins that lined the queue.
"You've broken your glasses then" observed Martin all matter of factly. What! I took them off to examine them and found that one lens was half gone and the other was cracked all the way across. My favourite sunglasses. My favourite sunglasses that I'd had for years, that you can't buy any more! How long had I been walking around as though I'd fallen face first off a ride? I must have looked a right sight and hadn't even noticed. A testament to the enormous stresses the contents of my trousers had been under on the previous ride!
With much less in my pockets to worry about we were soon all getting into the carriages of the coaster train. There seemed to be much more room in these seats and much less to keep you in so I hoped it wouldn't be as bad as the previous ride. Off we went. Almost immediately somewhere out on the track on a bit of a dip my stomach decided it had had enough and departed, only to churn it's way back a short time later. I was pretty up tight throughout the ride but surprisingly the actual double corkscrew was something of an anti climax. I clenched and whooshed through it intact, complete with stomach.
Once again in no time at all after the long queuing the ride was over. We all started away from the coaster and it was only then that I learned what all the signs for photographs and key rings were referring to. I'd wondered what it was all about since I couldn't see how it was possible to make any use of my camera at all, and in the end didn't take a single shot all day. On every ride there were automated cameras that took photographs as the rides passed the scariest bits. Several photos were taken all at once to ensure that there was at least one picture of everyone. At a booth near the ride within sixty seconds of getting off, a bank of televisions displayed the pictures that had been taken. For a quite considerable fee it was possible to have an immediate print out of the photo of your choice or have it made into a key fob. It was hilarious looking at all the faces, frozen upside down in the corkscrew, and most especially mine. It was the odd one out. Everybody else was smiling and happy and waving but there was I looking very white knuckled and obviously intensely disturbed by the whole experience. It was £4.25 for the one photo but I just HAD to have one it was soooo funny. What on earth must I have looked like on the photos of my first ride into 'Oblivion'? It is probably for the best I will never know. Unfortunately I hadn't read all the signs and it was only after having bought the photo that I realised it was possible to arrange to collect them at the exit gate on departure. I was now lumbered with looking after a large photo around the park for the rest of our visit. It was too big to be safely stowed in any pocket so I was forced to carry it down my T-shirt for the rest of the day. Very awkward and strangely hypnotic to every passer by.
Just across from the ride was the 'Bronto Bites' takeaway and since the afternoon was moving on we decided to have a quick snack. I wasn't too sure this was a good idea. My stomach had obviously developed a life of it's own and I wasn't too sure that I should risk upsetting what had turned out to be a reasonably acceptable, if unpredictable, behaviour pattern. I certainly didn't feel hungry, although should have been by then, so I decided that I would risk it and ordered up a small hot dog. Martin did the same although he obviously had a much better relationship with his stomach since he ordered up his with lashings of squirty extras. We sat on a nearby Ug Land Stone Age boulder and had successfully polished them off before Chris came wandering back with a full portion of fish and chips covered in ketchup! I wondered how he could possibly dare eat all that until it became clear that he was only going to eat the fish so, whatever the consequences since I couldn't see them go to waste, I offered to finish the chips off for him.
With a quick check of the map and with me finishing off the portion of chips we headed for the nearby Skyride Station. This was basically a cable car that crossed large areas of the park. There was only a small queue so, fighting to keep the nauseating kids behind us, we were soon getting into one of the cars and taking our seats. Unfortunately the kids got into the car as well and what would have been a wonderful journey swinging high above a deep wooded valley was marred by their raucous behaviour and the spitting of things around the carriage through straws. Glad to be away from them we got out at the next station and a short walk later we were staring at the queue for the 'Nemesis' ride. A nearby Tannoy began to announce the queuing times for all the big rides. We couldn't believe it when they announced that the queuing time for Nemesis was ninety minutes. From our previous experience that would be a conservative estimate! We stood by the ride and debated whether or not we could handle waiting that long. Martin said he'd sit this one out but was quite happy to wander around a bit on his own if Chris and I wanted to go for it. As we stood and talked next to the small river of artificial blood that ran under the ride, we saw it go round. I'd never seen anything like it. Rows of chairs all suspended from above with peoples legs dangling in mid air, travelling at incredible speeds and going through the most terrifying violent of manoeuvres which apparently put the passengers bodies through 4 G's. I was scared. If there had been much less of a queue I would have had to do it but the queue and the terrifying look of the ride made the decision not to bother too appealing. The decision made, I relaxed. We headed over to have a look at the 'Ripsaw' ride but that was closed so we milled around looking at some of the rusting military vehicles that formed part of the backdrop to that area. As if returning to the safety of more normal reality Martin and Chris discussed the vagaries of each of the, to them familiar but to me wildly outlandish, vehicles.
By now I was feeling strangely exhausted and would have been more than happy to have found a patch of grass somewhere and gone to sleep, but after a quick check of the map we all headed off on quite a walk, skirting 'The Gardens' and making our way towards the 'Runaway Mine Train' ride. On the way we passed the 'Congo River Rapids' ride. This was basically a rushing river of water that flowed in a big circle and upon which were large rafts made of aircraft tyres that had seats for six people. The rafts were set adrift on the water and flowed uncontrollably around the obstacle strewn course, through water falls and over rapids, making the occupants just a little more wet than dry. We stopped at a vantage point for quite a time having a smoke and bemused by the bizarre behaviour of the rafters. It was extraordinary how much enjoyment and amusement a little wetting could achieve. And then there was the screaming. I don't know what it is that makes girls scream like they do. Girls seemed to be able to scream on every ride throughout the park no matter how much fear would normally make the men grit their teeth and bear it. Girls are strange and no more so than when a little water is involved so it seemed. Raft after raft passed by and as soon as the girl occupants saw the approaching water falls the air was rent asunder with the loudest most ear splitting hypersonic screeching I have ever witnessed together with much hugging. It was fascinating. The closest the boys got to this was a torrent of F or S word profanities and some pushing and shoving! If I had to make a choice I think I'd go in a raft full of girls but a set of ear defenders would be most welcome.
When girls getting wet had lost its appeal, we moved on and joined the relatively modest queue for the 'Runaway Mine Train'. The stroke of genius here was the plaque on a tree that announced the queue wait from that point and the threat of ejection from the park for any queue jumpers. Winding its way amongst the cool of the trees it wasn't a bad place to queue, or wouldn't have been if not for the kids immediately behind us. There had to be something wrong with one of them. He couldn't speak. All he could do was shout. An ear splitting shout that actually hurt. I've never heard anything like it before and thought it was perhaps just me with a headache. There were times when I was actually closing my eyes with the pain. Flinching I turned around and tried to catch Chris's eye to see if he was suffering too. I couldn't help but laugh as I saw Chris, bent forward, shoulders hunched with his eyes screwed up and a pained expression on his face as the shouting carried on from just behind him. It was all too much and when the kid pushed forward a little shouting that the queue was moving why weren't we, Chris had a 'quiet' word! I don't know what it was he said but it thankfully got very much quieter from then on.
Much later . . . further on in the queue, whoever was now behind me seemed to have no understanding of personal space, or if he did it was obviously mine that he wanted. From my shoes to my shoulders I was being leant on. I pushed backwards but to no effect and lost my temper a little. I half turned and about as aggressively as I am able barked "Would you BACK OFF . . . please!" It had the desired affect but according to Chris later the object of my aggression announced to his friends that I was obviously a homosexual! A strange conclusion since I imagine if I had been I would have been happy to have not said a word.
This ride was going to be much tamer. I could tell from the speed we'd seen it going and the construction of the train's carts. No padded head braces or safety bars on this one. Just a metal bar across our laps. No worries. Well . . . not until the first banked corner. Poor old Chris next to me was on the lower side of a banked slope and as the cart tilted ended up with pretty much my full weight resting on him. The ride felt really quite rickety but wasn't too worrying until the very last bend which seemed to get faster and faster and tighter and tighter. By the time it disappeared into the blackness of a tunnel I was quite convinced that it couldn't possibly make such a tight turn and was absolutely bound to smash us headlong into the stone tunnel wall. Needless to say it didn't and just to prove I was wrong it went round the same route all over again. Difficult to say whether or not it is better knowing where the nastiest bit is. It felt just as impossible the second time round really. It was a scary little ride.
Time was marching on by now and what with all the queues there was little more we could try. We were right next to the 'Haunted House' and there didn't seem to be much of a queue at all so we thought we might as well try that. After the queue we slowly walked through a darkened room or two with bizarrely sloping floors where a couple of holographic type projections were of some little interest from a technical point of view. The obligatory spooky eyed wall paintings were tedious. The actual ride itself, where we got in slowly moving carriages, just had to be one for very young children. It really wasn't scary in the slightest. Everything that moved, appeared or sprang out was so slow or obviously some aged Heath Robinson mechanical device that we were very soon reduced to near tears of laughter. Other areas were just so permanently dark that we got the impression that half the light bulbs had blown. One bit did have promise. We slowly approached a long blue-lit tunnel with strange patterns on the wall . . . and . . . and . . . we passed through and came out the other end! I'm sure it should have been revolving which would have given a good disorientating effect, but it wasn't.
Looking at the TV screens of the photos, after the ride was over, we eventually found one of a carriage full of three guys laughing their socks off in disbelief. It was a very sorry end to the day but we really didn't have enough time left to try anything else.
We made our way back towards the exit at 'Towers Street' and whiled away the last half an hour with a quick drink in the Nescafe Corner Coffee Shop. Checking my watch, not wanting to miss the coach, I was a little concerned that it may have lost some time so I pressed the function button to change the digital display from date to time. The poor old thing had obviously suffered as much as I had during the day and immediately gave up the ghost. I had no more time there.
Perhaps a little after five we headed back outside and set off on the long walk, past all the rest, to the very last coach park. There was some confusion as we looked for the coach and almost headed for the wrong one before realising that we were in the last but one coach park. Eventually we found the coach and after a quick cigarette outside as more people arrived, we boarded, because it was nearly five thirty. The 'twitcher' was not in his seat so I happily took the window seat and made myself comfortable. At five forty five we were still parked there waiting for the missing passengers. The drivers' bluff hadn't worked. At last an Asian girl who we had all been forced to wait for came strolling up to the bus as slow as she pleased, climbed aboard and sat in the vacant seat next to mine. At last we were on our way.
It was hot. The coach had sat almost all day in the sun and had heated up like a green house. The full on air conditioning was struggling. The scenery passed by and I considered trying to have a snooze despite the discomfort of my cramped legs. That idea was soon put paid to by the ringing of the mobile phone of the girl next to me. Pulling it frantically out of her bag as if her life depended on it, she was off. For the next quarter of an hour or so half the bus must have been listening to her loud conversation, which was more than can be said for whoever had phoned her. There seemed at first to be awful confusion over whether or not the caller was actually talking to her or to someone else sat in the room with her at the other end.
"Are you talking to me? Beena are you talking to me? Are you talking to me Beena? Beena?" It went on and on. When communication was finally established the conversation degenerated into who was seeing whom and about the guy she'd just met at Alton Towers and all that sort of vital, important stuff. At one point she had to take down a phone number and couldn't find a pen in her bag and was just starting to write on her hand with her eyeliner when I just couldn't help myself. I pulled out my pen and handed it to her assuring her at the same time that of course I wasn't listening! Just like the rest of the bus.
The timeless journey continued and someone else near the back of the bus about three rows away had a phone call on her mobile. A little while later I could hear her asking the friend that had phoned her why she had phoned her just to play her music. Apparently she was bored! What price boredom.
The girl next to me asked if there was a toilet on board. Of course there was, but being half asleep I got a little flustered and said I didn't really know and that she should instead ask the large girl across the aisle because I thought she would know. I didn't mean to upset or embarrass her. It just seemed better to ask her because she obviously had considerable knowledge on the subject. With details confirmed the Asian girl disappeared down the stairs to the WC. I didn't intend to take note but after half an hour or so away from her seat I was a little intrigued. I pushed my worries aside and assumed she was making a private phone call of some 'importance'. The next time the large girl went to the toilette I concluded the Asian was sat down stairs with friends. I was more comfortable for the welcome extra legroom.
According to my wrist, time did indeed stand still, but at long last we arrived back in Bristol and the Asian girl returned from wherever to retrieve her coat. We all got off and just as I was about to say goodbyes and start the long, dry walk home Martin offered to give me a lift. I could have kissed him. I felt exhausted and all the way back had been dreading the prospect of having to walk home.
Around about nine o'clock the three of us were sat drinking coffee or tea in my living room.
There was some talk about going again in the future but not on the bus and definitely not when it was likely it would be busy. Definitely not then!
I wasn't too sure that I really wanted to repeat the experience. On reflection I hadn't actually 'enjoyed' it. It certainly hadn't changed me. All I'll say is I've been on a scary ride and I've survived. Or maybe 'a day in a queue for three rides? That'll do!'
Been there, seen that, done that, got the photo.
Then again I didn't do the really scary one did I? That Nemesis thing.
Hmmmm . . . . . when were you thinking of going again?
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